Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived

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Overview

Over the past 180 years scientists have sifted through evidence that at least twenty-seven human species have evolved on planet Earth. And as you may have noticed, twenty-six of them are no longer with us, done in by their environment, predators, disease, or the unfortunate shortcomings of their DNA. What enabled us to survive when so many other human species were shown the evolutionary door? Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived by acclaimed science journalist Chip Walter ...

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Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived

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Overview

Over the past 180 years scientists have sifted through evidence that at least twenty-seven human species have evolved on planet Earth. And as you may have noticed, twenty-six of them are no longer with us, done in by their environment, predators, disease, or the unfortunate shortcomings of their DNA. What enabled us to survive when so many other human species were shown the evolutionary door? Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived by acclaimed science journalist Chip Walter tells the intriguing tale of how against all odds and despite nature's brutal and capricious ways we stand here today, the only surviving humans, and the planet's most dominant species.

Drawing on a wide variety of scientific disciplines, Walter reveals how a rare evolutionary phenomenon led to the uniquely long childhoods that make us so resourceful and emotionally complex. He looks at why we developed a new kind of mind and how our highly social nature has shaped our moral (and immoral) behavior. And in exploring the traits that enabled our success, he plumbs the roots of our creativity and investigates why we became self-aware in ways that no other animal is. Along the way, Last Ape Standing profiles other human species who evolved with us and who have also shaped our kind in startling ways - the Neanderthals of Europe, the "Hobbits" of Indonesia, the Denisovans of Siberia, and the recently discovered Red Deer Cave people of China, who died off just as we stood at the brink of civilizations eleven thousand years ago.

Last Ape Standing is an engaging and accessible story that explores the forces that molded us into the peculiar and astonishing creature that we are.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Christine Kenneally
Walter takes an antic delight in the triumphal adaptations and terrifying near misses of human evolution…Last Ape Standing makes for a lively journey.
Publishers Weekly
With 27 species of humans having evolved over seven million years, Walter (Thumbs, Toes, and Tears) has quite a tale to tell. Unsurprisingly, this abbreviated work gives short shrift to much of that story. Like many others, Walter argues that neotony, "the retention of juvenile features in the adult animal," is most responsible for differences between humans and other hominids. His primary focus gets lost in lengthy digressions on tangential ideas from evolutionary psychology, like the development of morality and the aesthetics of beauty. He also loses credibility when he lapses into arguments grounded in the largely discredited theory of group selection. Similarly, his supposition that "small pockets" of Homo erectus descendants may have survived to the present day (well past their accepted expiration date 250,000 years ago) and that they might be responsible for yeti or Big Foot sightings removes his work from the arena of sound science. In the end, Walter posits that the next evolutionary step might be Cyber sapiens: immortal superhuman hybrids of humans and machines. Though intriguing, Walter's evolutionary treatise is too fantastic to be taken seriously. 10 b&w images, 8-page b&w insert. Agent: Peter Sawyer, the Fifi Oscard Agency. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
“Chip Walter's Last Ape Standing is provocative, insightful and engaging; a rare trifecta among science books. Nearly every page offers something that will surprise or intrigue you.”—Ray Kurzweil, inventor, futurist, and author of How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed

“I read Last Ape Standing while sitting, then I jumped up and cheered. It’s that good!” – William Shatner

“The saga of human evolution is far from a straight line from ape to angel, with all but one of many species going extinct.  Chip Walter's thoroughly enjoyable new book considers the evolutionary and social forces that crafted us, modern humans, and presents an intriguing scenario of why Homo sapiens is the Last Ape Standing.”—Donald Johanson, discoverer of Lucy and founding director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University

“This book has a way of making you feel magnificently insignificant and at the same time an essential, vital part of the chain of human evolution. Just when you thought you were fully evolved as a human.....think again. Mind blowing stuff!”—Michael Keaton

"[An] engrossing, up-to-date account of human evolution."—Kirkus

"[A] captivating and informative field trip through man's paleontological past...an exceptionally well-written overview of man's evolutionary history as well as an accessible guide to the underappreciated field of paleoanthropology."—Booklist

"Whether reading as a student or simply somone interested in how we came to be who we are today, Last Ape Standing provides a captivating look at science's evidence of evolution." — ShelfAwareness

"[An] engaging accounts...shed[s] a fascinating light on our evolutionary success." — New Yorker

"Chip Walter has made himself indispensable to audiences craving the latest information about our evolutionary past. No one wrties about early man, evolutionary dead ends or our pre-human rivals better than Chip Walter. If all science books were this witty and well-written, everyone would be a nerd." — Pittsburgh Post Gazette

"Walter takes an antic delight in the triumphal adaptations and terrifying near misses of human evolution...Last Ape Standing makes for a lively journey." — New York Times Book Review

Kirkus Reviews
About 27 humanoid species roamed the Earth since splitting off from their ape ancestors 7 million years ago; more are turning up, but only one remains. Science journalist and former CNN bureau chief Walter (Thumbs, Toes, and Tears: And Other Traits That Make Us Human, 2006) delivers a mixture of fact, research and conjecture that describes how this happened. Anthropologists define humans as primates who walk upright, but the author focuses on another fundamental, if bizarre, difference--human species deliver children prematurely. Traditionally, teachers explain that this allows passage of our increasingly large skull and brain through the birth canal, but there is more to it. We are not only born as fetuses, but we keep infantile ape features (near-hairlessness, flatter faces, higher foreheads, a straight big toe) into adult life. Carrying the analogy further, Walter emphasizes that humans not only have an extended physical childhood (gorillas reach adulthood at 11), but we preserve the mental qualities of childhood: curiosity, adaptability, and the love of play, new experiences and experimentation. Our victory was not preordained, and three other brainy species shared the planet when the first Homo sapiens appeared 200,000 years ago. The first breakthroughs, tools and fire, occurred over 1 million years earlier, and we did not seem an improvement. More than another 100,000 years passed before Homo sapiens' burgeoning neural connections passed a tipping point that produced the language, culture, creativity and technology that enabled it to rule the world. The author offers a short epilogue about the "next human," writing, "short of another asteroid collision or global cataclysm, we will almost certainly become augmented versions of our current selves." Walter never explains precisely why our species stands alone, but few readers will complain at the end of this engrossing, up-to-date account of human evolution.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802717566
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 1/29/2013
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 261,078
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Chip Walter is the founder of the popular website AllThingsHuman.net, a former CNN bureau chief, feature film screenwriter, PBS documentary filmmaker, and author-in-residence at the Mellon Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. His articles have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Economist, Discover, Scientific American, and numerous other publications and websites. He is author of three books and his writing has been published in six languages. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 18, 2013

    I just finished reading Last Ape Standing by William "Chip&

    I just finished reading Last Ape Standing by William "Chip" Walter and found it to be a fascinating, if tentative, story of the rise of Homo Sapiens to the top a field of some twenty-seven contenders for the crown of "most intelligent primate on Earth". As the author freely admits, the number twenty-seven was more or less picked at random, as there is no telling what new fossil evidence will emerge in the near to distant future. Nevertheless, as the author points out, this has been a fascinating time for paleo-anthropologists, who now have have at their disposal an investigative tool with which to make sense of what laymen might consider merely random bone fragments.

    Now that DNA forensics are available, along with a knowledge of primate and human genomes, the developments of the last seven million years or so--the point when humans parted genetic ways with chimpanzees, our closest living relatives--was not simply a matter of a linear path from a common ancestor to modern humans, but was, rather a bevy of contending species of many kinds of post-ape but pre-human species, given the fecund nature of evolutionary development. The problem becomes not simply a question of how the bones fit into human evolution, but whether they are in our ancestral line at all, although we would be cousins of one degree or another of their hapless owners because we homonins all descended from a common ancestor. [BTW: the term 'homonin' versus the more commonly used term 'homonid' is explained in the book.]

    The fascinating question is how did the evolutionary line that lead to Homo Sapiens survive this 7-million year period, while all of the other evolutionary experiments of walking-apes-with-(relatively) big-brains failed to reach the present. Not only was it possible that many of our evolutionary cousins had contact with one another and with our distant ancestors (although it is impossible to characterize the nature of this contact for lack of evidence) such contacts must have been fairly uncommon, as the entire "quasi-human" population was relatively small, although different primate species had covered nearly every livable spot on Earth, on foot, from its place of origin, the savannahs of Africa.

    The story becomes more clear at about 100,000 years ago, when most of the variant hominins had fallen by the evolutionary wayside, with the conspicuous exception of the Neanderthals, who had successfully survived the glaciers of Europe, and in turn whose physiology was shaped by the cold climate. Although Neanderthals and the precursors of Homo Sapiens who arrived later co-existed for tens of thousands of years, and possibly interbred, the Neanderthals gradually died out, the last possibly at Gibraltar only 20,000 years ago for reasons that are ill-understood.

    Although Last Ape Standing is only a snapshot of our recent knowledge of the workings of evolution in the 7 million years that have separated the great apes and humans such as ourselves, it is highly readable and poses a lot of "what ifs", because the outcomes, and the reasons for those outcome are often very unintuitive and surprising. This makes for good reading and Last Ape Standing is a well-written summary of the present state of knowledge about human origins.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2013

    Chip walter did a wonderful job of translating science into Engl

    Chip walter did a wonderful job of translating science into English as a first language. I was particularly intrigued by the number of concurrent human species, as opposed to the linear view of evoluation; the rhythm
    and imagry of Neanderthal language; and the extraordinary, and essential contributions of extended childhood and play.

    A great read for any audience.
    Jim Denova, Ph.D.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 18, 2013

    *A full executive summary of this book will be available at newb

    *A full executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Monday, February 25, 2013.

    It is a deep part of human nature to want to understand our origins. Indeed, creation stories are ubiquitous among the world's cultures. Somewhat fittingly, the vast majority of these creation stories have the human race emerging quickly, if not instantaneously--a revolutionary moment befitting a revolutionary species. When it comes to the story from science, on the other hand, while it may be no less spectacular, it is far less abrupt, for it has our species emerging much slower. Indeed, the latest findings indicate that we began branching away from the species to which we are most closely related--the chimpanzee--some 7 million years ago, and that only a series of small modifications spread out over this time has led us to our current state.

    However long the process may have taken, though, in the end it was nevertheless revolutionary, for it has changed us from head to toe. Or rather, from toe to head, for the evidence indicates the process began with a modification in our big toe (which made upright walking easier) and ended with self-awareness (which ultimately made us interested in the story of our origin). While the rough edges of this story have been known for decades, recent fossil finds and new techniques in DNA analysis in the past 5 years have allowed the story to come into much clearer focus. Armed with these new discoveries, science writer Chip Walter takes on the story of human origins and evolution in his new book 'Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived'.

    Walter's book reads very well and his explanations are very easy to follow. Although the outline of the story that Walter tells is by now familiar, the author does a very good job of covering the latest findings and theories that are emerging that are allowing us to gain a fuller picture of just what happened (especially when it comes to hominid sub-species evolution, and the role of neotony in our evolution).

    I felt there were just two main weaknesses in the work. First, Walter does not address the change in mating and childcare patterns (towards more monogamy and paternal involvement) that made delayed development possible. And second, Walter's discussion of the future of human evolution (both natural, and man-made) is scant and somewhat wanting. Other than that, though, the book is a valuable addition to the evolving story of our evolution as a species. A full executive summary of the book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Monday, February 25; A podcast discussion of the book will be available shortly thereafter.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 9, 2014

    Really a very interesting read. At times I found that the autho

    Really a very interesting read. At times I found that the author repeated himself, but overall, this was a really excellent book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2014

    Minus stars

    Very sacreligious book. Man did not evolve from apes. God made man in His own image. Blasphemous book. Minus stars

    0 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2014

    After five page review dont bother

    Its all there plus sample should save you two bucks

    0 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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